Project managers have a lot of responsibilities. They need to develop a plan and be able to execute it throughout the project. They need to deal with issues, risks, changes to the plan and a myriad of unplanned interruptions.
On top of all of that, they have a team they are responsible to lead. The project manager needs to make sure the right people are engaged at the right time and that the right people are rolled off before they bill time outside of the budget.
One aspect that is often ignored is the impact of the project itself. Most projects introduced change to an organization. Whether the project is a new software system or the implementation of new policies, the end user stakeholders will feel the impact.
It is important for the project manager to consider this impact and address it with the stakeholders as part of the project.
Include it in the Plan
The first step in addressing the organizational change impact is to include it in the plan. The project plan should have specific steps involving how the project team will deal with the impact to the end stakeholders.
By addressing it in the plan, it is managed and measured by the project manager. Tasks involved with organizational change will be assigned to someone on the project team and – with adequate management – be completed effectively.
The tasks included in the plan should address many of the following components.
Starting at the very beginning of the project the project team should make the effort to listen to the business team and consider their concerns. Take questions from the stakeholders whenever you meet with them. Gather FAQs and provide solid answers to them that the stakeholders can access through a WIKI or some other online forum.
In status meetings and any ad hoc encounters with the stakeholders, measure their concern or even their fear. Pay attention to the tone of their questions. When there is change within an organization, rumors begin to spread. Some are based on fact; others border on conspiracy theories. Pay attention to everything to ensure that you have the right answers.
Consider How Jobs will be Affected
Every project involves some form of change to the jobs of the stakeholders. More often than not, the change is good. It might make their jobs easier and allow them to complete tasks faster. But that is not the point.
Projects are usually implemented to gain some form of increased efficiency or effectiveness. That will change the way people work. Human beings are creatures of habit. Even when people complain about some of their tasks, they tend to complain about a new process that might eliminate those very tasks.
Worse yet, people get anxious about how new efficiencies could begin eliminating jobs. Automation has done it to people before. What if it does it again?
Consider at the outset how the project will impact this and how the organization will deal with those changes. Prepare to explain to people how their job will be affected. If a job will be eliminated, are there options to retrain or reassign the person in another position?
Develop a Communication Plan
Stakeholders should be informed through multiple channels of communication for their questions to be addressed. Having a WIKI page as was mentioned before is a good way for them to look up FAQs and to even start a conversation. Setting up an email address for them to send questions and comments to is another option. It is critical to monitor that email address and provide prompt responses to the recipients.
A project newsletter or weekly update can be helpful too. This is a way to provide high-level updates on project progress, estimated completion date(s), and any feedback on the organizational change. Information from the WIKI or from email correspondence can be duplicated here as just another channel to provide information. Most stakeholders will not check all channels of communication, so it is helpful to duplicate information in each channel to ensure as many people are updated as possible.
If staffing and budget allow, it is helpful to have a key contact to address organizational change. This can be the face of organizational change for the stakeholders. They may be more likely to submit a question to an individual than to a generic email address. They are more likely to trust the answer from an individual also.
It should go without saying, but all responses to stakeholder questions should be honest. “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer if you truly do not know the answer. When that is the case, every effort should be made to determine the answer and respond to the person promptly.
The “I don’t know” response is sometimes a dishonest way to cover up an inconvenient truth. Part of having a communication plan is to have appropriate answers for difficult questions.
Often times the implementation of a new system will result in the elimination of jobs. Organizations do not want the holders of those jobs to leave the company until the project is over. Tipping them off early could mean those people finding other jobs before the organization is ready.
The best way that I have seen this managed is to honestly tell people that their jobs will be eliminated and provide a retention bonus for staying on.
Change leads to anxiety and anxiety leads to poor effects on morale. Even if one’s job is secure, many projects change the way people do their job. Sometimes it moves their workplace to a new location.
Monitor the stakeholders’ morale. Ask questions that directly address it. Increase the communication when you see morale begin to dip. Increased communication does not fix all morale issues, but it is a good start.
If you get feedback from the team that morale is low, try to find out the source. If increased communication will not fix it, work with the company’s management team to address it.
This last tip may be interwoven with all of the above tips. It is important that your answers to the team are consistent across all communication channels. If two people ask a question and get different answers, the team’s credibility will be very low. They will quit asking questions and rely on the rumor mill.
Many ignore the importance of organizational change management in project management. It is a critical component of a project that could determine the success of failure. This should be addressed early and often as part of the normal project plan.
How have you address organizational change management in project management?
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